Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Random Occurrence Of An Impossible Pair Of Scissors

Today's writing prompt:

Dictionary Definition: Open up a dictionary to a random word. Define what that word means to you.

Note:  You'll have to scroll through half of this post before I begin that task of definition.


It's an interesting word.  When does it mean random?

Random is the territory of the mathematician.  The quest to generate a random number puzzled mathematicians and computer programmers for a long time.  How do you produce one?  When I was a child I owned a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer and before that a ZX81.  One of the commands in Sinclair Basic was Rand.  Use it and your computer was randomised meaning that the next random number you asked for would be truly random.  Except it wasn't.  Rand may have had the appearances of randomness but turn the computer off, turn it on again and ask for a new random number and you would get the same one.  Rand started in a particular place, performed whatever operation it performed, and ended in a completely non-random place.  There was a way to randomise Rand a little by following it with a number.  You would still end up in a non-random place but it was governed by your choice of number, which in itself isn't really random.

Today's most proficient random number generators are as random as we know how to make them, filled with the uncertainties of radioactive decay, atmospheric noise, and nanosecond measurements between the human presses of a button.  Unrepeatable measurements.  Randomness has been achieved through technology.

Random is the territory of the magician.  They play with the term in order to give the appearance of randomness while the reality is predictability.  They can force situations, force our minds to give us free choices that aren't free at all.  They force cards, they hide details.  When they ask us whether we had a free choice when we picked a card the answer is most likely no.  Their random shuffles are not random at all.  The most skilled shuffler I saw could produce eight perfect riffle shuffles in a row which leads to the pack being exactly as it was to begin with.

Random is a place where our minds thwart the idea.  I probably subconsciously noticed this prompt days ago because I found myself thinking about random choices.  I may not have noticed it at all - it's the kind of thing I find myself thinking about anyway.  My brain pointed out to me that if you ask someone to pick a random word from a dictionary or another book their choice will not be random.  Even without the skills of the magician influencing proceedings.  The random choice is a limited kind of randomness.

The random word will not begin with A or Z.  I found myself considering writing a poem dedicated to the aardvark and the zebra, playing on the idea that they might be lonely and resentful for never being considered in the word picking game.

People I've known used to seek guidance from God by saying a little prayer, opening the Bible at random and using the verse they found as guidance.  It's not a practice I recommend but it's one that's been heartily adopted by new age gurus and followers as they do exactly the same thing with books of answers and more types of oracle cards than there are weeks in the year.  In the last week of 2016 I participated in that kind of thing twice, believing the choice of card says nothing but the interpretation reveals something about the person.  The first card was drawn by another person from a set of cards each of which showed a goddess.  She drew Freya for me.  The second was drawn by myself from a card each of which contained a message.  I drew "This Time Next Year."  I can happily interpret that second card but it doesn't reveal anything to me except for my own hopes and fears.

I can safely say that my card choice, while it might mean nothing, was as close to being random as it could have been.  There was no trickery involved and given the owner of the cards didn't know the order and they had been shuffled several times before they reached me by people who didn't know the cards it was at the very least a double blind choice.

My choice this evening is not double blind.  Choose a random word from a dictionary.  I can't even "randomly" head to A or Z now because I've already pointed out that people don't tend to do that.  The picked word, verse or card isn't at the edge unless we deliberately choose it to be so.

The dictionary is here.  I'm going to choose a word now.  It won't be fully random but there will be many possibilities within the limited choice.

And ... the word at the top of the final column is ... scissors.

I'm fortunate the random word wasn't the one at the top of the first column.  That was Schistosoma.

I'm now going to choose a word beginning with D because while typing this I asked a friend to choose a letter.

And ... the word is ... doldrums.

Finally, I'm going to choose a word given by someone who claims it to be random.  The image at the top of this post was taken from a site that's more random than my roughly-two-thirds-through-the-dictionary choice.  The site is simply called Random Word Generator

And ... the word is ... peace.

I've asked for lots more random words and I don't think they're particularly random.  I believe them to be drawn randomly from a limited vocabulary, chosen by the programmer of the site.  For a word that's probably far more random try this site instead.  Webwheel, dentagra, perron, fairlead, halitosis, gilderoy, yelt, bijugate and so on.  They sound more random don't they?

Three words:  Scissors, doldrums, peace.

Out of those three words I've totally non-randomly decided to say something about scissors.  Doldrums would have ended up a work of sadness.  And as for peace?  For tonight I'll let others speak of it.  I'll just say that it is a positive not a negative.  It's something to work towards and learn to live towards.  It will never be achieved simply by seeking to end war or by fleeing from a negative.


Tonight, scissors represents the struggle to become free, to overcome disadvantage.

I've always had difficulty with scissors.  In my primary school there was a box of "school scissors" in each classroom.  Safe scissors for all the little children not to cut themselves badly.  We weren't given access to the "teacher scissors".  Those were far too dangerous.  And woe betide any child who stepped within a twenty foot radius of a guillotine had it not been placed securely under lock and key.  School scissors.  They were a thing of dread for me.  I hated them so much.  Because, I was unable to use them very well.

It wasn't my fault though.  Not at all.  You see, I am left handed, cack handed, sinister and this was an age when the makers of school equipment didn't think about the possibility of there being left handed children.  One of the teachers at my primary school still believed that left handedness was an evil thing to be trained out of any child.  She was in a permanent state of shock that the other teachers didn't mind it when a child dared to hold a pencil in their left hand.  She would have approved of school scissors and raised them up as trustworthy examples of apparatus to create correct behaviour.

School scissors made life very difficult for me and for others like me.  It was completely impossible to hold school scissors in your left hand and cut through a piece of paper.  I don't even know how such a thing is possible.  And yet it is.  The result of such infernal devices was that I completely failed to cut things out.  Completely failed.  I couldn't do it.  The scissors wouldn't let me.  The teachers would marvel and how bloody useless I was and would make comments about my stunningly crap capabilities.  In time I wanted to cry whenever the school scissors appeared in a lesson.  They were my nemesis.  I could read well.  I could do my sums so well that the teacher made me a new set of work cards nearly every night.  But I couldn't cut through a single piece of paper.  And each time I was told how crap I was.  At least that's how it felt to a sensitive five year old.

It was my mother who changed things for me.  She was a supply teacher and happened to be teaching in my school.  She was the one who came up with this simple solution:

Why don't you try cutting out with your right hand?

This practice felt completely wrong to me.  It went against the guidance of everything my left handed brain was telling me.  But I tried it.  I smiled so much.  Because for the first time ever I managed to cut.  The strength of that paper was no match for the might of scissors in my right hand.

That didn't mean I was any good at cutting out.  I struggled a lot with it.  Cutting round a shape was always messy and a straight line could end up containing many angles.  My work would be held up as an example of bad practice and I would be laughed at by staff.  I remember it too well.  Given that I'm not good at instinctively interpreting social cues and given the relationship between that and my sensitive nature I can tell you that the laughter cut deeply and left an impression on me so great that the effects remain with me.

I continue to struggle, not just with the practical skill of cutting out but with the memories of the past.  Cutting open a packet of cheese.  That's one thing and I'm fine with it.  There is just me, scissors, and cheese, without any emotional weight being given to the situation.  But when it comes to cutting out shapes for art or cutting anything where I need to be exact something rises from within and it's like I'm six again and being laughed at by the teachers for my total ineptitude.

School scissors.  The thought makes me anxious even now, thirty years after progressing to a secondary school and having to own my own pair of scissors.  Scissors bought for me by my granddad.  Scissors that could be used just as easily in either hand.

Anxiety.  It's real.  I have used scissors many times.  Of course I have.  But the anxiety remains.

Each time I pick up a pair of scissors for a creative project I am having to overcome a scarred memory of the past that refuses to be healed.  Each time I cut out a shape I am intentionally forcing myself to stand about that anxiety and walk in freedom.  When I cut out words for this blog three days ago, even though I didn't have to be neat in any way, I was overcoming my own fear.  My own head screamed at me too and told me that I should be neater because anything else was something to be despised.

I refuse to put down those scissors.  I refuse to give in.

Remind me of this next time you see me having a mini meltdown when you hand me a pair of scissors:

In cutting out a simple shape I am free.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. But not spam and not obscenity. It's not all politeness though - religion and politics aren't banned.